I swore, placing myself between Arlena and the kid. Lucy was in my hand like a flash of lighting. Beside Ms. Arlena Silverstein stood two pairs of gray pinstriped suited men in matching goggles and top hats. They each had a handgun trained on us. Arlena smiled and rose from her seat in my office chair. She walked around the desk in full formal bodice and dress. It was a dark maroon with black lacy floral patterns.
She had a look of pleasure in her eyes, a look that made me more than a little uneasy. She softly clapped her black lace covered hands as she spoke. “I have to admit Mr. Moore. I definitely did get more than I bargained for.”
“Well that was the point of the name, Ma’am.” I told her.
“A job well done, sir. I had only intended on you finding the child. My men were going to take out that orc-infested warehouse. When to our surprise you came waltzing out with my son in hand.”
“You can drop the act. I know he is not your son.”
“I should have guessed. I presume the nanny told you such. Braylen, sweetie, come to auntie Arlena.”
“Auntie!” The kid shouted.
The kid fought his way free of Tanis and ran past me. He ran into Arlena’s open arms and she hugged him deeply, whispering something in his ear. I bit back frustration, I knew if I moved an inch her men will fill me full of lead and I didn’t want the kid to see that. I lowered Lucy not wanting to aim it at the kid.
“I know what you are planning on doing Arlena.” I told her. “How could you do that to you own nephew?”
“I will not harm the boy. We simply want to reverse engineer his heart.”
“And how do you plan to do that without removing it?”
“Well his father managed to put it in there without harming him. I intend to reap the benefits that he so selfishly keep to himself.”
“What of Braylen’s father?” Tanis asked.
“He is indisposed, for the time being. That is until he is of no further use to the company.”
“So what’s the plan? You’re just going to take the kid and leave?”
“Oh no, Mr. Moore. This was a kidnapping, the headlines will read, “ The safe return of Braylen Silverstein after being kidnapped by his nanny. The child was returned by private detective Marcus Moore,” she said. “The Detective was later found dead alongside said nanny in what appeared to be a shootout in the detective’s office.”
She smiled a dark smile patting the relieved kid on the back. I clenched my fists, rage boiling with me, I had played right into her game. Her men walked forward and motioned us into the room. Arlena with the kid in her arms circled around us toward the door. The ruffles of her dress making shuffling sounds as she walked. I took a deep breath inhaling her scent which was the same combination of honey and wildflowers. I committed the smell to memory.
I thought about taking the shot. I was good enough to take her down. Then her goons would rip me to shreds. I’ve taken a shot or two and healed from it. But thirty or so shots, I did not want to risk it. Not that I had much choice in how many bullets I was about to take. “What you are doing is wrong. That kid’s life should not be worth less than whatever wealth and power you amass.” I said.
“Well that is where we will have to agree to disagree I’m afraid. Braylen’s life is the key to my happiness. How that happiness is achieved is in the eyes of the beholder. Fear not Mr. Moore, you did an excellent job. I will make sure my employer uses your fee to purchase a lovely gravestone.”
I growled in frustration, the beast pressing to the surface. This was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. I could see Tanis out of the corner of my eye. She stood there expressionless, still as a board. I wondered if she would be able to at least cover herself with that shield she used.
“Well now, Mister Moore. I bid you farewell. Enjoy the afterlife.” She said as she walked out of the door.
Her men did not hesitate; bullets flew at us before she was out of view. For a moment all I saw was the kid’s eyes as they rounded the corner. The bullets struck me one right after the other and I fell to the floor. You’d remember I said about getting shot at is unpleasant. Actually being shot is that much worst. I briefly saw Tanis’s shield go up and falter and she hit the ground as well. My body was riddled with pain from the several shots and my world went black.
I awoke several minutes later, my body on fire. Not in the literal sense, though the two sensations were not that different. I could feel each bullet as my body forcibly ejected the foreign objects. It felt like I was being shot in reverse. I thrashed and pounded the floor, tears rolled down my cheeks with what I assumed was blood. I counted the rounds giving my mind something to focus on. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, after eight or nine I gave up. The pain was too great.
Another several minutes passed before I was able to see straight. I rolled over to my hands and knees. To my left I saw my pistol lying on the floor next to me. I picked Lucy up, which took a surprising amount of effort, it felt as if it weighed a ton. I slid it into its holster, and then used the edge of the desk to assist me to my feet. I know what you’re thinking, what is this guy an immortal or something? I assure you, I can die just like the next man. You just have to use the right tools.
I struggled to maintain my balance as my world rocked, back forth like an airship. The severity of my injuries increased the amount of effort my body would put into healing itself. Still, being shot several times, is a lot of work to repair. I looked around the room, impressed by the bullets groupings. The shooters were good shots; I’ll give them that. The bullets hit me mostly center mass and a single shot struck my skull. The room I saw had a few bullet holes from bullets deflected by Tanis’s shield.
Through the throbbing in my ears, I heard a clicking and grinding sound. I looked down at Tanis who twitched in small spurts. Her body was covered in blood, but the color wasn’t right. A green luminescent substance leaked from her wounds. Around her were small bits of metal and gears. Within one of the holes I could see clockwork and machinery winding and turning.
“Well that explains a lot,” I whispered is a raspy wounded voice.
I knelt down next to Tanis’s fallen form and cupped her head. I pulled her hat and goggle off and brushed her raven colored hair back. She looked up at me with sad crystal clear eyes that glowed faintly; her exposed gears grinding loudly.
“I have failed him.” She said in a quiet voice.
“Shhh, it will be Okay,” I told her. “Hey an automaton, I honestly thought they were a myth.”
“We are,” she said in a strained voice. “So don’t tell anyone about it.”
“Hey, I’m pretty good at keeping secrets. Now hush up, I know excellent mechanic.”
I gingerly lifted her off the floor, as I did, my body reminded me that I had been shot repeatedly. It hurt like hell, but time was short. Tanis laid limply in my arms, her gears and cogs made little whirling and clicking sounds. I walked over to the scrying mirror limping, staining for far than I’d ever in the past. I summoned Lucy, the mirror chimed twice before she answered the call. She looked at me with one of those rare facial expressions, a look of shock and worry.
“Marcus what happened?”
“I’ll explain later. I need you to come pick us up in the alley behind my office. I’m not sure how long I have before the coppers show up,” I said.
“Okay, okay I’m leaving now.”
I closed the connection and looked at the door. It felt like it was a long way away. Slowly but surely with a little bit… okay with a lot of pain, I lumbered through the door and down the hallway. By the time I reached the staircase, I could hear the sirens coming. With great care and caution I made my way down the stairs, trying my best not to jostle Tanis too much. I reached the bottom of the stairs and turned toward the back door. I was forced to put Tanis down on her feet while I opened the door. She grunted and her insides whined and hissed. I wasn’t sure if she experienced pain, but I tried my best to limit her movement. I picked her up again and we walked out into the rain.
The cold water did nothing to ease the stinging of my healing wounds or the dizziness I felt. I could hear the sirens coming closer. I walked down the alley bit near where we had parked the Pans. I looked up and found an overhanging ledge. I nestled us underneath, as close to the wall as I could, getting us out of the downpour. We sat there in silence as the sound of the sirens, the city and the rain filled the air. I let out a breath and fought to remain conscious. I heard the sirens come closer and closer and eventually stop. I could only assume the coppers were making their way up to my office. Where they would find a few bullet cases, bullet holes, a lot of blood and no bodies. It wouldn’t be long before they searched the surrounding areas.
I thought briefly that this was going to cause my rent to be raised. I let out a small chuckle. I drifted back to reality a few minutes later when I heard a car pull up in front of us. It was a Poseidon, a full body sedan-type steam car, and the second most expensive vehicle on the market. The car was teal or gray; I could not really tell in the rain. I saw through a blurry haze pair of tiny feet step out of the car. Lucy looked like a tiny angel coming to rescue me. She saw us in the gutter and rushed over.
“Marcus!” she exclaimed. “What happened? Are you Okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I told her. “Tanis is worse for wear.”
Lucy looked down at Tanis’s limp form and for the first time noticed the clockwork winding within. Her larger than average eyes grew even larger. She bent down closer examining the detailed work.
“She’s an automaton!” she exclaimed, unusual excitement in her voice.
“Yes, shocked me too. Come on let’s get her in the car and out of the rain. I don’t think we have much time before the local police find their way back here.”
“Okay, okay.” Lucy said anxiously.
I strained to my feet while lifting Tanis’s motionless form. Thank the fates that my ankle had mostly healed by this time. Lucy walked over the Poseidon and opened the rear door. I eased Tanis into the rear sit. She groaned or least I think it was a groan as I laid her down across the seat. I closed the door and walked around to the passenger side. I got in the car and exhaled deeply. Lucy got in the driver’s seat, which I noticed had been modified with a raised cushion, and adjusted pedals.
She started the large steam engine and we were out of the alleyway and onto the street. I saw several police vehicles lined up outside my office and I could see one patrol airship hovering above. Lucy drove down the street and made her way for the highway. She smoothly merged into the evening traffic and head towards her home in the Upper East Side.
We rode for several minutes not saying a word. The rain drummed along the windshield and roof of the Poseidon blending with the soothing rumble of the engine. Lucy looked at me with sad concerned eyes. I would not have notice if it were not so out of character for her.
“Marcus, tell me what happened.” she said.
I laid the story out for her in full detail. I explained how I was used to track down the kid. How Arlena had planned to kill me from the beginning of the whole ordeal. I explained how Arlena had no love for the kid and that it was likely that the kid’s father remained alive.
“Well, that’s just messed up.” She said.
“I agree. And I have every intention of making Ms. Arlena Silverstein pay for it.” I said coolly. I let out another groan as another flash of pain washed over me. “Right now, I’m just going to rest.”
“You go ahead and do that, I’ll get us back to my place.” Lucy told me.
Lying back I closed my eyes and I listened to the rumble of the engine, the drumming rain, and the passing cars and then I was asleep. I awoke sometime later in Lucy’s garage. Lucy had gotten out of the car and wheeled a gurney to the back seat of the Poseidon. I stiffly slid out of the car and walked over to the rear door.
Lucy had put on her power enhancement gauntlets and together we moved Tanis’s still form onto the gurney. Lucy checked Tanis eyes and wounds, while I stood there helpless. This was way out of my depth. We wheeled Tanis into the workshop. Tanis was looking worse for wear. She had lost a lot of fluids; whatever those fluids were and little sparks flared from exposed parts of her body.
“Can you fix her? Take care of her?” I asked hesitantly.
“I honestly don’t know. I mean I’m good… This… is on another level. Until this very moment, automatons were a myth, theory, and a possibility. Tanis is as an amazing feat as the heart core in that little boy’s chest.” She told me, marvel in her eyes.
“Well I’ll leave everything in your more than capable hands. I’m going to go make some summons and get myself cleaned up.”
“Okay, I’ll be here.” She said blankly.
I exited Lucy’s deathtrap of a workshop and went to the scrying mirror in the living room. My head was throbbing and my body ached something fierce. I made the summons to Tobias’s portable. He picked up after a few chimes. I could see from the background that he was back at Adrian’s Place.
“Hey cousin! What the hell happened to you?”
“Apparently my plan was not as good as I thought it was. Arlena and her goons were waiting in my office for me. They shot me like eight or nine times.”
“Ouch! It’s a good thing we have that little gift from our parents.”
I scratched my head, “Sometimes it’s a blessing. I did not want to gamble on it though.”
“Okay, well I take it she got the kid?” He asked.
“You would be correct. She got the kid.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to track Arlena, find where she stashed the kid, and get him to safety.”
“Sounds like a plan. What can I do?” He asked while taking a drink of an amber colored liquid. Most likely Adrian’s home brewed ale.
“See if you can track down any street deals going on with Devlin Works.”
“I can manage that, summon you at Lucy’s or your portable?” he asked with a raised dark eyebrow.
“My portable appears to have taken a Bullet.” I said as I took it out of my breast pocket. “Just contact me here. Lucy will pass me the message.”
“What about that Apollo and the Pans?” he asked.
“You’ll find your bikes in the alley behind my office. I wouldn’t advise going to get them till later though I’m sure the coppers are still milling about. Hold on to the Apollo until I find out where Lucy wants you to bring it.”
“That we can do. It’s a shame what you did to it. It’s a very nice ride.”
“Yes it was, I may be more afraid of Lucy reaction to it, than the bullets I endured.”
Tobias laughed warmly, “Well from the stories I have heard; I’d be afraid too. Stay sharp, cousin.”
“Will do,” I said with a faint smile.
I closed the connection and thought for a minute. I pondered over how I might track Arlena down and how I might figure out where she was keeping the kid. I thought about what information Tanis might have and whether or not Lucy could repair her. It had been a long pair of days and it appeared they were going to get longer. The pain started to throb its way back into my awareness. I remembered that Ovur Brassbeard would be waiting at the airship docks.
I made a summons for Ovur’s portable. It took a few chimes but he answered and his big flaming handlebar mustaches filled the mirror’s surface. He adjusted his portable scrying mirror and I could see that he stood on the deck of the Sun Bird. His smile faded when he saw what I imagined was a sullen, beaten face.
“Aye, Marcus you look like you played a game of chicken with death and lost. What happened to you, mate?”
“Let’s just say things did not go according to plan. The other player in the game was one step ahead of me.” I said.
“It’s hard to predict the weather, mate. The same can be said for females of every variety.”
“You speak an honest truth. Listen, Thanks for waiting. I’m sorry if I held you up from any dealings you had prepared.”
“It’s not a problem. I was doing this trip as a personal favor. I actually did not plan to set out for a few days. I tell you what; I know you’re going to go after the kid. I’ve seen your determination first hand. I owe you big for getting me the Sun Bird back. So you summon me when you get the kid. I’ll bring the Sun Bird into Middle City if I have too.”
“I’ll hold you to that and I maybe in need of those services.”
“You do that. We’ll be around.” He said and closed the connection.
The pain of my body healing itself cascaded over me once more. I had to admit it was starting to become annoying; like my neighbor’s pint-sized dog that never stops barking. The sudden tide washed over me and I swayed a bit. I used the table to steady myself and I looked in the mirror.
My gold tinted eyes glowed faintly, a sign that my body had to use “other” resources to keep me upright. The eyes themselves were sunken like I had an opium addiction. I had a scar forming just below my hairline above my left temple. My lower lip was split and caked with dried blood, add the bloodstained clothes and the bullet holes and someone could mistake me for a walker.
Zombies, nobody likes zombies. I shook my head to regain focus as my thoughts started to drift. I turned to the staircase and grumbled. From where I stood it looked like a very long way up. I forced myself to stop whining like a preschooler that had been shot several times and worked my way up the stairs. I limped down the small hall to Lucy’s lavish bathroom and stripped down with a bit of effort. I heard a few slugs rattle on the marble floor accompanied by Lucy’s loud thud. Apparently a few of the slugs had gotten stuck in my clothes. I turned on the hot water and gritted my teeth through the pain. I stood there until my body went numb, then I slowly washed myself clean.
My mind drifted, it drifted to the kid, then to Tanis and then to Arlena. My anger boiled and I could feel the beast raging inside. I was angry with myself for being so blind, I was angrier with Arlena. She didn’t even know me, but before she stepped foot in my office, she had already planned my murder. That pissed me off; I could see her face mocking me, that smug superior look in her eyes. I was tittering dangerously on unleashing my rage. I made a declaration in that shower. I would hunt her down and make her pay dearly for underestimating Marcus Moore.